Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Photo Phix (foto fix?)

My camera is still in the shop (which reminds me, I should call for an update tomorrow), so I'm taking this time to observe other photographs to see what I like, what I dislike, what I can emulate and what inspires me. Here's a list of where I go

- User submitted photos from the web. A lot of it are duplicates from the web and there are a lot of landscapes there, but there are a good percentage of quality photos.

photo.net critique - The highest rated photos on photo.net. Often contains photoshopped stuff or just plain illustrations (not my cup of tea), but there is enough good stuff for me to check periodically. Warning - it does contain a fair amount of nudity, but you can filter out the nudes if you so desire.

Flickriver - Shows the top 500 most "interesting" photos on flickr for the day. Flickr's definition of interesting is, um, interesting, but ~20% of the photos there are worth more than a casual glance.

Strobist Pool - A Flickr group dedicated to off camera lighting, there are some really interesting technical shots here. See also Strobist's favorites - the best of the best according to a photographer I admire.

Nikon 50mm Pool - A Flickr group showing only photos taken with the Nikon 50mm 1.8. This lens is so amazing.

And if you have exhausted all of these, you can take a look at what I think are great photographs here - my list of flickr favorites. Chosen for their technical merit, creativity or just because I like them - these are my inspiration (photography-wise anyways - I've got plenty of other inspiration in my life beyond other people's photographs)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Emulsions and I don't mix

It's been a bad week for me and my sauces. Nothing has gone right and everything has split.

On Tuesday night I tried my hand at making mayonnaise for the first time. By hand. It's one of the skills I want to have before I die.

If you don't know, mayo is just an emulsion of egg yolk and oil (with a bit of acid to help open up the egg proteins and get them all tangled up with the oil). The trick is to incorporate the oil as slowly as possible, or so I've been told. I got together my ingredients (egg yolk, 3/4C canola oil, 1 tsp lemon juice + my trusty whisk) and started beating. I beat the yolk and then put in a drop of oil and beat it again. I did this repeatedly, until 1/4 of the oil was incorporated. Things were starting to look good at this point; my mixture was really really thick. I started adding the oil a little bit more aggressively, perhaps a tsp at a time. All the recipes I've read say to pour in the oil in a thin stream, but I couldn't figure out how to do that while whisking and holding onto the bowl. At about the 3/5C of oil things went down hill. The mixture started to break; after I stopped whisking, the oil would seep to the top. I was hungry and hopeful, so I continued on and used up the whole 3/4C. Adding more oil didn't help (my head knew that would happen, but there was still this irrational hope that it was wrong). I threw it into my prepared chicken salad mix, added some store bought mayo and ate it anyways.

Tonight was no better. I made myself macaroni and cheese but my cheese sauce split. Another bust.

My cheese sauce is basically roux, milk and cheese. My downfall this time around was the type of cheese I used. Have you ever wondered why you don't see macaroni and blue cheese sold anywhere? It's because it's hard to make a smooth sauce with blue cheese If the temperature of the sauce gets too high, the proteins can clump together leaving clumps of cheese and water. I made the mistake of adding the blue cheese in with the gouda and colby and now I have leftover mac and cheese that is really watery with tiny clumps of cheese dispersed throughout.

So that's been my culinary week (and it's only Thursday). Tomorrow I make something that's harder to screwup.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What a winter

This is the plow that went by, blocking us in.For the third time this season, we had to skip church because of the weather.

The first service was canceled. The roads were not plowed in time for us to make it to the second service. The main roads were probably ok, but we saw a couple of cars get stuck on our street last night and there was even more snow on the ground in the morning. Then the plow came and we spent 45 minutes clearing the windrow. We are happy for the plough, but it does create more work for us. About 75% of the way through cleaning the windrow, the plough came by again, sealing our non-church attending fate. It's a good thing Creekside puts out the sermons on podcasts; we'll catch up on it later this week.

Tara and I Saturday afternoon. The banks are now over our heads.We've had a heck of a snowy winter. The UW weather station people say that with the last snowfall (37.5cm) we have broken the seasonal snowfall record of 245 cm. And I'm willing to wager we haven't seen the last of the falling snowflakes for the year.

The skies are sunny now but that doesn't hide the fact that we've shoveled 3 times in the past 24 hours. While it is a good source of exercise and of spousal bonding, I wouldn't mind if it was the last dump of snow we get for the year. The snow banks are higher than we are; there is no room for more snow.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Camera in the shop

I took my camera into the shop this morning. The Commander Mode has stopped working. This means that I am not able to trigger my flash when it isn't attached to my camera. Boo!

If you don't care about cameras, especially Nikon, you can stop reading now and just remember that I won't be taking many new photos for a while. (My lovely wife has a camera she uses for her research at school that she said I could use, bless her soul).

I don't know if they will be able to fix my D70s. If the firmware is the problem they can probably fix it by re-flashing it. If the hardware is the problem then they there is a good possibility they can't; they stopped making the D70s a couple of years ago and I don't know how may spare parts they have. My Blacks extended warranty says that if they can't fix it, they'll replace the camera with an upgraded version since the D70s is out of production. I don't know what I would upgrade to (given a choice):
  • D40x/D60? - No camera body motor which precludes auto-focusing on my 50mm or my 105mm. This is a deal breaker for me. It also takes SD cards instead of CF, so I would need to buy all new media.
  • D80? - Same SD issue. Only syncs with the flash up to 1/200s while my d70s syncs up to 1/500s.
  • D200/D300? - Ideal since either of these are in my upgrade path (if I were to come into money), but they still only sync up to 1/320s. If I had to give up my beloved D70s, I'd push for one of these (the D300 of course :) ).
Another option I have is to continue to use the D70s without the Commander Mode and buy a third-party remote flash trigger. I could go with a cheap trigger ($40 Cactus trigger, made in China, spotty performance) or I could go with the Rolls Royce of wireless triggers ($400 - ouch). The problem with this option is that I can't use TTL metering with the flash but that may be ok as I am leaning more toward manually setting the flash level. I haven't made up my mind about going this route.

So ya, I'm kinda bummed about this. The guy at Blacks said I should expect a wait of 3-6 weeks. That seems like a long time.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Mmmmmm - Biscotti. There really isn't anything better to eat with your coffee. Not a slice of coffee cake, not a boston cream donut, nothing.

Tara is going to have a number of patients in ICU over the next week so she asked me to make something that she could take in for the ICU staff. I made these biscotti last night and she'll take them in tomorrow. (If you work with Tara go bug the ICU folks for a cookie, but I'm not making any promises).

If you have any confidence in your culinary prowess, give these biscotti a go. Try not to eat them all yourself (even though they last for a couple of weeks).

If you don't like pecans or orange, remove those ingredients and replace it them with something else. You'll need about 4 tbsp of liquid, so don't forget that (I bet Baileys irish cream biscotti would turn out interesting). These are vegetarian, but not vegan; I don't know if you could substitute something in for the eggs, but I'm guessing the protein is important to the cookies.

Orange Pecan Biscotti (adapted from Fine cooking)

14 oz all purpose flour (about 2 3/4 C)
1 1/2 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 C grated orange zest (about 2 oranges)
1 C pecans
3 large eggs, room temp
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp Grand Marnier (or 2 Tbsp orange juice if you don't want to buy a bottle just for the recipe)

1. Cover a cook sheet (non-rimed) with parchment paper. That's not shown, only because I ran out and forgot that I ran out. Believe you me, it's much easier with the parchment paper underneath but if you don't have any, just grease the cookie sheet.

2. Set the oven to 350F.

3. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt. Take about 1/4 C of this mixture and mix it in with the zest (so it doesn't clump). Stir the zest and pecans into the flour mixture.

4. Whisk together the eggs, olive oil, orange juice and Grand Marnier well.

5. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the liquid mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until blended. I sometimes use my fingers, but it does get sticky.

6. Split the dough into the three. Roll one third into a log (on a floured table) so it's a 12-16 inches long. Transfer to the cookie sheet and flatten the log to about 3/4 inch thick. Repeat with the other two thirds, making three logs altogether.

7. Bake the logs at 350 for 22->25 minutes. You don't want to brown the logs, just cook them. Rotate the sheet half way through.

8. Remove from oven when the top of the log is still a bit soft. Let them cool (to the point where you can handle them).

9. Slice the logs into thin strips. I like to go diagonally, but you don't have to.

10. Lay the slices back on the cookie sheet on their side (you may need more than one cookie sheet).

11. Bake for 8 minutes, turn the cookies over and bake for another 10-14 minutes. They should be a little soft when they are removed (as they will harden up as the cool).

12. Remove from oven and let cool. Eat with your favorite hot drink.

IngredientsMixed Dough
Three uncooked logs
Three cooked logs
Sliced logs
Ready for the oven (they don't look much different after baking)